Christmas is behind us and that means the new year, and the 2012 Olympic season, is only a week away. If there is one thing that is certain about an Olympic year, it’s that there will be athletes that step out of the shadows and into the spotlight. The ’76 Games in Montreal gave us Edwin Moses. The ’92 Games of Barcelona brought us Quincy Watts and Kevin Young. 2004 was the big stage debut of Keninisa Bekele, and of course Beijing was Usain Bolt’s time to shine.
You never know whose star is going to shine, but you can bet that someone unheard of, unheralded, someone that’s lost before, will rise up and become front page news. By the end of 2012 we could be talking about someone we’ve never even heard of before – those are the one’s impossible to predict. But here are ten young men that I think have the potential to accomplish that feat – to improve and make shocking news in London.
Andrew Wheating – USA – 800/1500
Wheating is one of those athletes that’s been around for an Olympic cycle and shown flashes of brilliance. In 2008 he made the U.S. team for Beijing in the 800 with a strong stretch run; then withered in his heat under the bright lights of the Games. He came back and got better, winning an NCAA 800/1500 double in 2010, before heading to Europe and PRing at 1:44.56/3:30.90/3:51.74. After an injury plagued 2011 season, it’s over the longer 1500 that I think Wheating can make his mark in London. He has the speed, and has that long stride a la Asbel Kiprop. I know he’s been more of an 800 man in the past, but his 1500 potential says he could make the podium in that event.
Orlando Ortega – Cuba – 110 hurdles
If you take a look at the yearly list of hurdlers you will see Ortega in the #15 spot with his 13.29. Now I’m sure many are saying, “So what”. But, Ortega was the Pan American Games champion and his last four races of the year fell between 13.33 & 13.29 – he was consistent. More importantly Cuba has done a pretty good job of developing hurdlers. Current WR holder Dayron Robles is from Cuba as was former Olympic champion and WR holder Alejandro Casanas. When I factor in that last year’s hurdle revelation, Jason Richardson, started the season with a PR of, 13.29, I give Ortega a good shot at emerging from the shadows.
Will Claye – USA – Long/Triple Jumps
Many are probably more familiar with Claye’s training partner from last year, World triple jump champion Christian Taylor. But Taylor honed his craft jumping daily against Will Claye as Florida teammates. And as Taylor improved so did Claye. As a matter of fact it was Claye who won the SEC triple jump championship before Taylor turned the tables with wins at the NCAA Championships, U.S. Nationals, and World Championships – with Claye right behind in 2nd, 2nd, and 3rd respectively! Taylor was superb, but Claye made tremendous stride too. 2012 could be Claye’s year!
Alonso Edward – Panama – 200 meters
I feel that while the 100 gets all the attention, the 200 is really the deepest sprint on the planet. Just two years ago Edward came out of nowhere to take silver behind Usain Bolt’s WR run – running 19.81 as a 19 year old! Injuries have kept him down since, but he came back to run a respectable 20.28 this year at age 21. The young man is certainly talented and is still young enough to come into his own. Bolt himself took a few majors before crossing the line first. A healthy Edward could be ready to emulate! While some will be looking to emerge in 2012 we could see a reemergence of Edward.
Mike Berry – USA – 400 meters
One thing that the U.S. continues to produce with regularity is top level 400 meter sprinters. Last year, with Merritt out and Wariner struggling we saw Tony McQuay emerge and run 44.68 before succumbing to injury at Worlds. Behind McQuay at the NCAA meet and the National Championships was Mike Berry. The Oregon freshman had a breakthrough season of his own, dropping his best from 46.13 to a sizzling 44.91! He came up a bit short in his bid to make the Daegu team, but that’s often the prelude to making an international squad. Berry went to Daegu and got some relay experience in the rounds – and looked VERY good. Let’s see what a year of seasoning brings.
Mohamed Aman – ETH – 800 meters
The man in the 800 right now is David Rudisha – the WR holder. While many keep watch on Abubaker Kaki as the man to potentially bring him down, one young man did accomplish the feat in 2011 – the 17 year old Aman! Aman’s 1:43.37 was good enough to set a World Youth Record, as well as NJR and NR for Ethiopia. He ran a superb 1:43.50 to edge Rudisha in Milan, and is certainly not afraid of competition. He will be only 18 years old in London, and age certainly didn’t deter Kirani James this year in Daegu! Look for this young man to shine at the Games.
Ryan Whiting – USA – Shot Put
We’re nearing the end of the line for most of the world’s top shot putters – that became clear in Daegu. Throughout the New Millennium the names of Cantwell, Nelson and Hoffa have been seen at the top of the results lines of most big meets. Daegu showed the signs of cracks in that armor as none of the big three stood on top of the podium – Cantwell being closest in 4th. So it looks like we are nearing a changing of the guard in the Shot, and if anyone is ready to move up its Whiting. He’s a former NCAA Champion who just fell short of the NCAA record. He’s thrown 21.97m/72’ 1”, and got his feet wet in Daegu taking 7th in the final. My gut says Whiting is due for great things this year.
Isiah Koech – KEN – 5000 meters
Typically it’s the seasoned vets that dominate the longer distances. You usually have to pay your dues, before you step to the line with the big boys. Someone forgot to tell that to Isiah, who at the tender age of 17, finished 4th in Daegu over 5000 meters! That’s right just 17 years old. And he wasn’t the beneficiary of a “slow” pace because while the Daegu final was on the slow side, Koech ran a best of 12:54.18 during the season and had an all-time best of 12:53.29 – a World Junior Indoor Record! Koech has nowhere to go but up – as in dropping his times lower and getting faster. It’s scary how good this kid may end up being and he stands a good chance of starting that climb in London.
Johnny Dutch – USA – 400 hurdles
Dutch had the kind of season you would expect from a 22 year old hurdler – he ran 48.47 and took 5th at U.S. Nationals, just missing out on a trip to Daegu. The thing is, the year before he was second at nationals in 47.63! He’s run 13.50 in the high hurdles (13.30w) and has the kind of skills that made Edwin Moses and Andre Phillips Olympic champions. If 2011 was the bump in the road that I think it was, look for Dutch to improve again in 2012 – which would put him on the Olympic team and possibly on the podium.
Maurice Mitchell – USA – Sprints
The most volatile and unpredictable of all events are the sprints. Usain Bolt wasn’t even on the 100 meter radar at the start of the 2008 season, yet won both the 100 & 200 in Beijing. The one thing that I know is that every year there is someone who just runs faster. Mo Greene emerged in ’97 from obscurity to dominate into the middle of the New Millennium. Bolt rose up in ’08, and Yohan Blake looked like the next great thing this year. You never know who or when, but when I look at the career of Mitchell to date, he’s in the right spot. Solid improvement the last three years, and enters 2012 with 10.00/20.19,19.99w bests. He got some relay duty in Daegu and was a critical leg on a 37.79 squad. Definitely in a position that bears keeping an eye on.
So, there’s my first look inside the crystal ball for 2012. Given the plethora of talent around the world I’ll be happy if one of those guys comes through. But something tells me more than one will. Next I’ll take a look at the women’s prospects for coming out of the shadows in 2012.